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Le Tour de France…and “de Europe” for that matter!!! July 26, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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Hello hello,

Seems like just yesterday I was in Barcelona, eating tapas and speaking Spanish. But no, that was actually a week ago – how time flies when you’re nearing the end of a long journey, I’m convinced!

This past weekend (a 2-day) was my last official travel weekend, and I went with a group of friends to watch the very last stage of the Tour de France – an experience that involved little sleep, a lot of pushing and shoving, some arguing, and quite a bit of excitement…in other words, a helluva time!!

We arrived to Paris on Saturday morning and knowing the metro system like the back of our hands, proceeded directly to Le Musee d’ Orsay where we saw some amazing artwork; unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed 😦 So you’ll have to take my word for it!

After we were done with the museum, we went and picked up some lunch (one of my last baguette sandwiches in Paris) and then proceeded to go on a mad shopping spree, well sorta, because we spent like most of the time trying to find this Puma store on the Champs-Elysees, and since that one street is like forever-miles long it took a while, but we eventually found it!! We also took the time to scout out that same street for good viewing spots for Sunday for when the cyclists would come into Paris, and we actually ended up standing in a place that we didn’t even see on Saturday, but that was a good thing. I was insistent that we go to Mass at Notre Dame, so we did at 6:30 and then enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a small restaurant shortly afterward and then finally met up with the rest of the group at the hostel to get some good rest in preparation for Sunday.

Speaking of a good night’s sleep, it so happened that my room slept through our alarm and sure enough the other room didn’t, so I got ready in all of 3 minutes and was promptly out the door on Sunday morning at about 5:55 AM – yes, a beautiful time to be awake, indeed! Here’s what happens when I’m sleep deprived:

What I do at 5:55 AM on the Paris metro!

Once we made it to the Champs, we went straight for breakfast, and let me tell you, someone was hungry!! See for yourself:

He likes Egg McMuffins πŸ˜›

As we walked in the wee hours of the morning, we found many shops with Tour stuff, it was like super-uber cool:

They sold a 20 euro package of goods!

The winner, the sprinter, the climber, and the spirit of youth!

And I was able to take great pictures of actual Paris monuments and the Champs itself before the inception of the last stage; take a look:

Yeah, I'm excited πŸ™‚

Before the race = not crowded

And finally, after almost 10 hours of waiting…we saw a square car, like no joke:

One of the cars at the parade before the race - pretty boxy!

Haha, okay, so maybe we saw some AWESOME cyclists as well – and they were going super-duper fast!!! Imagine them in motion:

They're so close!!

And the rest of them!

And finally, the guy in first place on the last lap – a pretty impressive feat if you ask me! Just look at him:

And he was in first place on the last lap!!!

And thus, our travels in Europe ended on a “winning” note and I can truly say that it has felt like a “Tour de Europe” if I may say so myself, and you know, I think I might have won the race!!!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom…”

Au revoir amigos – until the next time,



Barcelona, tapas, and free hotels!!! July 19, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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Buenos dias, amigos!

It’s been a few weeks since we last talked, but just yesterday I came back from Barcelona for my last 4-day weekend and I have a few things I’d like to share, because to tell you the truth it was a fantastic trip! πŸ™‚

So, the journey began with an early departure on Thursday morning via a TGV to Paris for Bastille Day, otherwise known as the French Independence Day. All GTL students had been informed that there would be much celebration in the nation’s capital, so we figured it would be a great experience to see how the French celebrated their “4th of July” on the 14th of July. We arrived in the morning and immediately started searching for a good spot to watch the parade down the Champs Elysees, and it was surprisingly difficult to find a good viewing spot, but thank goodness we didn’t need one to watch a magnificent display of French planes that flew over the crowd – check out some pictures:

A few of the many planes that flew over us.

Horses at the parade!

We were not able to stay for the concert and the fireworks because we left early to Perpignon, where we would spend the night and depart to Barcelona early Friday morning. We arrived to Barcelona shortly after noon and went straight for the hostel, which turned out to be a very nice place (Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia) and then walked “5 manzanas”, which actually means 5 blocks, to Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi-designed church in Barcelona. Take a look:

That's Sagrada Familia, still under construction after 100 years, in the background.

From there we went to visit Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s giant soccer stadium (the best team in the world, in my humble opinion) and participated in the Camp Nou Experience where we got to see the FC Barcelona museum, the stands, the locker rooms, and even a chapel located in the players’ tunnel. Check it out:

It's known as "La Orejona".

That means "More than a club".

This chapel is actually located in the players' tunnel.

On Friday night we went to a hilltop where we saw the sun set over all of Barcelona and it was beautiful – unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me! On Saturday we had planned on going on a bike tour, but were late to the meeting point, so we walked around the city instead and were able to explore the beach, the main port, Las Ramblas, and enjoy a fine Spanish lunch consisting of “paella” and “sangria”, a classic Barcelona combo! Here’s a picture:

On the Barca coast.

In the afternoon we visited Gaudi’s park, where we saw some of his masterpieces, and then had dinner at an excellent “tapas” restaurant, and ended the night by listening to a street performer play his guitar who ended up being an American citizen himself! Here are some Gaudi pictures for ya:

Those are Gaudi's famous arches.

Gaudi's house...very Disney-esque!

Finally, on Sunday we went as a group to mass at Sagrada Familia, which was quite a moving experience, and took one last group picture in front of the Spanish “Arc de Triomphe” with our excellent tour guide, Mo Khosravanipour:

The group on the last day!

Finally, no story is worth telling unless it ends on a happy/funny note, so it turns out that we took a train back to Paris to then take a TGV back to Metz, but the train to Paris got delayed 50 minutes and made us miss the last train back to Metz. However, and thankfully, there is a man whose name is Andres Borda who negotiated with the conductor and amazingly managed to get the SNCF (French train company) to pay for a night at a free hotel and breakfast so that we could leave the next day on the earliest TGV back to Metz! Thus, although at first it seemed that 21 GTL students would be hopelessly stranded in Paris, the story turned out just fine and yet again we completed another week in Europe, all members accounted for. I will be writing my final post in about 2 weeks, so stay tuned to see how this crazy Euro trip ends…I promise it’s going to be an exciting finish to the “Tour de Europe” πŸ˜‰

Hasta la proxima,


Sweden FTW July 1, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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Hey guys,

So if I remember correctly, the last time we met, IΒ  had just come back from Munich convinced that the Bavarians had it right – well, that’s until I arrived to Sweden!

I chose to go to Sweden for my one and only 5-day weekend (yes, I know, can you even call that a weekend?) since my cousin just married a Swedish guy two years ago and they live in Gothenburg, the second largest city after Stockholm. Thus, not only did I have a free hostel, but I had very welcoming hosts, which kind of reminded me of home as well – so that was good.

I arrived very late on Thursday night and went straight to sleep, and didn’t wake up until about noon on Friday, not because I was being lazy, but because I was preparing for the party that was to come – Midsummer Festival!!! Turns out that the official day for Midsummer was on Tuesday, June 21st, but since no one likes to party on Tuesday, they moved the national holiday to Friday, just in time for me to arrive. πŸ™‚ We went to one of their friend’s house around 1 PM and didn’t stop eating food until about 11 PM – a VERY good thing, indeed! I was not only able to connect with the wife of the household (she was from South Carolina and her father graduated from Georgia Tech), but I was also able to taste the many unique dishes Sweden has to offer. In a nutshell, we had a lot of fish for lunch, went for a walk afterward (which apparently is typical for Midsummer), and had a lot of meat for dinner. My conclusion? Yes, the Swedish have got it right when it comes to national holidays and the celebrations that go along with them.

On Saturday I ventured out into the city of Gothenburg with my cousin and her husband, Per, and walked around for what seemed like 6 hours. We got to see a little bit of everything, including moose!!! Check it out:

Gotta shave!

And here’s one of the three of us with the city in the background:

One big, happy, family πŸ™‚

On Sunday my new parents took me to an island located about an hour away from Gothenburg and we had a wonderful picnic on the rocks with some incredible views. Check it out:


And of course you can’t go to Sweden and NOT go to an IKEA, thus, we ended the day eating cinnamon rolls at the IKEA cafeteria:

Cinnamon rolls, mmmmmm!!!

For my final full day, I took a day trip to Stockholm and basically toured the city via a “hop on and off” tour, and met up with a friend of mine in the afternoon to learn about the city from a true local. The city itself is beautiful, and the Royal Palace was very impressive. Here are some pictures:

My new house!

He was quite friendly.

I returned to Metz on Tuesday, and thus my excursion and experience in Sweden was over, but my memories of that fun-loving country will never leave me. I’ll probably return in the future if I have a chance!

As for now, I must prepare for my departure to Mont Blanc for my next 2-day weekend…stay posted for new updates.

May your days be filled with “Midsummer joy”,


Munich – “Where they put out fires with beer…or at least try to.” June 14, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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So yes, this past weekend (a 3-day) I visited the wonderful city of Munich, Germany and had a good amount of fun, as well as other things πŸ˜‰

I am fortunate enough to have relatives that live in Munich, so the group was able to save some euros on the housing, which was pretty cool, and which definitely allowed us to splurge in some other areas. We took an overnight CNL train to Munich, and it seemed that all of GTL was in the couchette car – I think we might have been kind of loud, oops! We arrived early into the main train station, otherwise known as the “Hauptbahnhof”, and made our way to Solln, where my uncle lives, to drop off our stuff.

Our home.

Having left our belongings in a safe and known location, we had breakfast at a typical German bakery in Solln and then took a subway train to BMW Welt and BMW Museum – in other words, BMW Heaven πŸ™‚ We did the BMW Museum first, which basically showed the progression of the brand and the cars from the creation of BMW up to the present, and then we did the BMW Welt, which was more of an interactive, technology-informative, display of new cars and quite frankly a BMW Heaven for car enthusiasts! We took a tour of the place, and the guide even took us underground to see where they deliver the BMWs for pick-up…it was pretty cool.

That's a tiny BMW!

Having seen many beautiful cars and bikes, I proceeded to find a church in Munich to go to Mass and ended up at St. Peter’s Church, the most famous and the oldest in Munich. Shortly after Mass ended, I met up with my group to enjoy a savory dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (across from Hofbrahaus) and we had a delicious, over-priced, American burger…so worth it!

Because we're real good tourists πŸ™‚

On Sunday we went on a bike tour with Mike’s Bike Tours, and not only did we ride around Munich on bikes (almost running over a few innocent souls in the process) but we also learned a lot of interesting information about the history of the city, like for example: there once was a fire that took hold of one of the government buildings, and when the German-engineered sprinkler system failed the next best idea was to try to douse the fire with beer; perfectly sensible, right? Well, the way this idea was implemented was by passing buckets filled with beer from the nearby Hofbrauhaus to the burning building, but on the way some of the beer mysteriously evaporated, so lo and behold, the building burned down – but not to worry, because the head honcho called it good and even and simply rebuilt the entire building, and no one was to blame. That’s how they do it in Munich!

Our awesome tour guide: Rob

After the bike tour we went to Allianz Arena, one of the world’s top soccer stadiums where the FIFA World Cup was held in 2006. Afterward, we met up with some other GTLers for dinner and this time had legitimate German food:

Eating legit schnitzel.

On Monday (day 3) we ended the trip in a more serious fashion by visiting the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, which was both impressive and a cause for reflection – never forget the lives that were lost in WWII! But on a happier note, day 3:

Ready for action!

And thus, our Munich trip ended and we successfully made it back home πŸ™‚ Hope you had fun reading about my Munich adventures – come back in a few weeks time and read about my trip to Sweden, because it’s going to be as epic as IKEA itself!

Lebewohl amigos,


One month, one program, and many fantastic experiences! June 9, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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Bonjour amis! (That’s “hi friends” for those of you not fluent in French)

So, just the other day I received my GT Career Services planner from my parents (because I can’t live without it and of course I left it at home), and was filling in my classes when I realized I’ve been in Europe for a whole month now! Crazy!?!? I arrived a week before classes began at GTL and traveled with my sister throughout Germany, Italy, and France and in the past weeks I’ve added to my repertoire of locations visited in Europe. For the first weekend (a 2-day) I decided to stay local and explore the city of Metz with my good friend, Senthuran. Turns out the decision was a good one because we learned where to reserve trains, figured out the bus system, and even got to see St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Check out some pictures below:

The Cathedral in Metz.

In case you get lost!

For the second weekend (a 3-day) I decided to visit Paris, a close, but yet exciting destination. We initially planned on going to the French Open, but soon found out that tickets had to be bought online (bummer!), but that turned out to be a good thing because we were able to see so much more – Eiffel Tower, Rodin Museum, Amaretto (best gelato in the world), Napoleon’s tomb, Versailles, and the Louvre. Check out some pictures below:

I'm underneath the Eiffel Tower!

Best gelato in the world πŸ™‚

Yeah, we wear ponchos!

And finally, this past weekend (a 4-day) the group decided to go to Interlaken, Switzerland and what a beautiful and exhilarating experience this was! When we arrived we went for a short evening hike just outside the town of Interlaken, the second day we went on a longer hike that culminated in a quaint little town called Murren, and on the third day I went Canyoning, which was the most adrenaline-filled 3 hours of my life!!! No pictures are available from the canyoning experience, so a YouTube video will have to do:

That day ended in a short hike to one of the lakes on either side of Interlaken and relaxing in a hot tub at Balmers (our hostel), so all in all an awesome trip! Check out some pictures below:

Lots of places to see!

Check out the vista!

There's snow!

Stay posted for more experiences, people, videos, and photos!!!

Au revoir,


Arriving to Metz!!! May 20, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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It was an epic journey to get here, to say the least! I spent the previous week touring Europe with my sister, and visited many places including Munich, Cologne, Milan, Venice, Paris, and now Metz. The traveling has been extensive, and at times challenging, as I am definitely not fluent in either German, Italian, or French, but I’d say that the measure of my success thus far has been that I’m still alive – and for that I’m thankful. I came in early afternoon on Sunday, May 15th, to Metz via a TGV from dowtown Paris and learned on my way here that not only will an officer on the train wake you up very abruptly to ask for your ticket, he will also charge you a fine for sitting in 1st class, even though you paid extra for it in the first place (although I must say, it was totally worth it!). Initially, I decided to walk to my hostel that I booked through hostelworld.com, but then got completely lost in a bad part of town and was forced to succumb to a taxi and found out that the hostel I had booked was closed, and ended up right across the lake from GTL at the Campanile Hotel, and the food is fantastic! About to get out of my room and walk across the street to move in to Lafayette and see everyone arrive to campus, and then for the GTL banquet at 7 PM….more updates to come!!!

Thanks for reading, or “merci” folks,


Some photos:

My awesome room –>

Metz –>

And GTL –>